CHBD’s new director, Philip Dawson.

by Brendan Sample

The Chestnut Hill Business District started a new chapter on Nov. 1 with Philip Dawson officially assuming the role of executive director. This comes after former Director Martha Sharkey stepped down from the position after four years, a decision she announced earlier this year.

Dawson, of West Mt. Airy, is a lifelong Philadelphia resident. Before coming to the Business District, he spent the past six years with Esperanza, a Philadelphia nonprofit group that helps to strengthen Hispanic communities throughout the area. His most recent position with the organization was executive director of Housing and Economic Development, where his achievements included heading up transformative public space improvement projects and launching strategic marketing efforts for Hunting Park’s 5th Street business district.

Dawson said he feels that the parallels between his current and former positions will be beneficial to his time with the CHBD.

“This is an especially exciting time to assume leadership, as we are presented with the opportunity to position the Business District for long-term prosperity through leveraging our many assets and recent years of growth,” Dawson said. “I look forward to working with our merchants and stakeholders to strengthen Chestnut Hill as a retail destination, to increase foot traffic through marketing and events and to implement improvements that reinforce the neighborhood’s identity as Philadelphia’s historic garden district.”

With so many opportunities to pursue as executive director, one of Dawson’s biggest challenges will ultimately be prioritizing which initiatives to pursue first. To gain a better sense of what will be best for the community, Dawson will be attempting to gain an up-close and personal perspective on what business issues are most important to Chestnut Hill.

“I’m going to start meeting with businesses and individual stakeholders to gain some kind of consensus,” Dawson explained. “It’s premature at this point to lay out a list of projects that we’ll be doing, but we will definitely be working on that for the near future.”

Though this position may be new to Dawson, he is no stranger to the neighborhood as a whole, having lived in Mt. Airy for three years with his wife. Some of the notable features that drew them to the area in the first place included, among others, a variety of different homes, the look of the district, its historical significance, environmentally friendly aspects of the neighborhood and the many thriving small businesses. Several years later, Dawson still sees the importance of those elements from the perspective of his new position.

“A lot of the same factors that attracted me and my wife to this area are still things that make it an excellent location for new business,” Dawson said. “These are all aspects of the community that the Business District can continue to promote.”

As the CHBD is welcoming Dawson, it will also be saying goodbye to Sharkey, who held the position for the last four years. While she will be staying on a part-time basis through the end of the year, Sharkey will ultimately be dedicating her time to growing the foundation she began with her husband, Today is a Good Day. The nonprofit is dedicated to providing support for families with babies born prematurely in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“We will miss the enthusiasm and creativity that Martha has brought to the Chestnut Hill businesses and will remain deeply connected while she pursues the growth of her foundation,” said Jennifer Miller, president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association.

For more information about the CHBD, visit